Whinging Spurs Fans? There’s Nothing New Under The Sun

On the good days, there’s nowhere like it. White Hart Lane is a proper football ground, steepling stands enclosing the pitch so the noise cannot escape. The old place shakes beneath our feet, inspiring the lilywhite shirts and evoking glories past. At night, it is our world. For ninety minutes nothing exists beyond the tight glare of the lights.

Things have changed. The good days are as good as ever, witness the bearpit that sent the gunners scuttling back to the antiseptic corporatism of the Emirates last month. For the average league game, however, it is often flat and lacking passion. In quiet passages of play, the passivity is palpable.

Recently this has provoked considerable debate in social media and elsewhere, wherever Spurs fans gather in fact. Last week an interview with Clint Dempsey implied that he thought the crowd’s edginess was having an adverse impact on the team. It has been linked to what is perceived as growing dissatisfaction and negativity. Fans are swift to roundly condemn players. Twitter may or may not be a representative cross-section of Spurs’ support but it is a nightmare of bile and downright hatred when we lose. Some players are blamed not just for defensive lapses but for causing global warming, world poverty and the arms trade, or so it seems sometimes. Certainly in the ground it appears as if the traditional relationship of the fans lifting the team has been reversed as we wait for a spark on the field to get us going. It’s not the same at away matches, where Tottenham have a deserved reputation as one of the best supported clubs in the country.

In common with supporters of other Premier League sides, Spurs fans are victim to some of the less welcome trends of modern football. Also, there are other factors peculiar to the club. However, there’s nothing new under the sun, least of all Tottenham fans being critical of their team.

As a young supporter growing up with Spurs in the mid sixties, I devoured all the information I possibly could, not just about my heroes like Mackay, Greaves and England but also about the precious history of the club. From the very beginning I knew that I was part of something special and I desperately wanted to fit in, to understand what it meant to be a Spurs fan.

I learned that we played the Spurs way, good football, pass and move, on the ground. We had star players to match. I also understood very early on that Spurs fans were characterised as a critical bunch who were quick to get on the backs of the players if things weren’t going well. This often came up in the media and you still hear it occasionally from pundits who were around then.

David Jenkins has had a profound influence on my life as a Spurs fan yet the vast majority of you reading this will never have heard of him. Jenkins was a young winger who came into the Arsenal side and quickly made an impact, so much so that he impressed Bill Nicholson enough to not decide to buy him but to include the excellent Jimmy Robertson, goalscorer in the 1967 Cup Final, in the deal.

Aged 11 or 12, I was not impressed with what I’d seen in black and white highlights on Match of the Day and the Big Match. Flashes of promise but no real talent. he ran qucik and straight but that was it. For the first time, I learned to have my own opinion about a Spurs player and dared to question the judgement of the venerable Billy Nick. Turns out I was right. Jenkins quickly faded and remains one of the worst players seen at the Lane in my time. The point is, before he left the scene he was given severe stick by the crowd, which could not have helped his development as a young man finding his way in the game. Things were made worse for him because of the adverse comparison with Robertson, a fans’ favourite.

The Spurs crowd always had a scapegoat. One of my first games, sitting in the wooden seats in the Park Lane, one player was given dog’s abuse. Useless, waste of money, a donkey. Go back where you came from. As an impressionable kid, I loved it. That player was Martin Chivers, on his way back from injury but sections of the crowd were unforgiving, all long forgotten when he became one of our finest centre forwards of the modern era.

It was expected – there was always one. Part of going to Spurs. Off the top of my head, Paul Stewart, a limited centre forward, young again, who went on to be a top class midfielder under Terry  Venables’ shrewd guidance. John Pratt, remembered fondly now as a hard-working midfielder dedicated to the cause but that was in spite of coordinated, consistent moaning at the time. Chris Armstrong, Vinny Samways – there are more. At its worst it was systematic barracking that began as soon as the first couple of errors were made. Whinging openly about, say, Jenas and Dempsey in recent times are mild in comparison.

I never bought into the idea of the Spurs crowd as fickle. We know good football and raise objections when we don’t get it. Nevertheless I can recall loud and sustained slow-handclapping of the team and gates below 20,000.

Put in this perspective and this season sounds like a golden age. However, there was no doubting the intensity of the support when we got behind the side and singing from our ‘end’. Unquestionably there was more singing and chanting. Songs were louder and more varied and each player had their own tune that was sung in the build-up to each game. As kick-off approached, so the volume was turned up.

One reason why it’s nearer mute these days is that over time, the Spurs’ fans’ heritage of a place to sing has been destroyed. When I started going, the Park Lane was our home with the Shelf well-populated but a back-up when things were going well. Gradually the balance shifted. Then, one season we turned up and the Park Lane was away fans only because of security concerns. Most away fans came by tube, the Park Lane was closer to Seven Sisters and in those more troubled times the police wanted to get them into the ground as quickly as possible. But they took our end away.

After a period of confusion, the Shelf came into its own in the seventies and beyond. In fact, the noise was greater because of better acoustics under the East Stand. Then they took that away too, in favour of executive boxes. Other clubs have disrupted their fans through a move to a new ground, Arsenal’s loss of the North Bank being the prime example, but surely no other club has so heartlessly moved their core support not once but twice. The insult still rankles and it’s caused the problem we have today.

Sharing the end with away support is better than nothing  – at least it’s our historic place – but no other Premier League team has the same arrangement and for European games our core support is unceremoniously shifted out entirely. It’s an absurd state of affairs that harms the support and therefore harms the team. An all-seater stadium with a high proportion of season tickets means we can’t move around even if we want to.

This factor is unique to Spurs but supporters are also victim to other harmful elements of the modern fandom. We’re not the only ones. I hear many teams say that it’s not like the old days, even giants like Liverpool and Manchester United. Supporters across the Premier league are becoming increasingly alienated from their teams because of the way the clubs behave towards us. High ticket prices despite vastly inflated TV revenue is the biggest bugbear, closely followed by ever-changing kickoff times at the behest of Sky and the deafening, offensive clamour of their incessant hype.

At Spurs we complain about yet another above inflation price increase or over-priced European games, the board shrug and point to the season ticket waiting list, variously given as between 23,000 and 30,000. The loyalty of fans who have devoted a lifetime to the club means little in the face of the irresistable forces of supply and demand. The club do not care who sits in those seats as long as someone does. Meanwhile, the chairman has an alleged salary increase of £400,000.

Then there’s TV. There is less need to invest in the time and expense of going when every match is on television. More significantly, TV has distorted the entire nature of the sport. Performance is minutely analysed not at the breathtaking real speed of Premier League football but after 37 replays and endless camera angles. It creates unrealistically high expectations of what is humanly possible of footballers. The defintion of good play and a good player has changed in the process.

It also encourages criticism. There’s an emphasis on failure – what defenders could and should have done, not the creativity of players who in any given situation were better in the battle between attack and defence that has been played out since football began. Recall the Arsenal home game again. The following Friday 5Live were still devoting endless airtime to what the Gunners’ back four should have done. Little mention of the stunning, deadly combination of skill, pace, timing and precision that created for Bale and Lennon two of the best goals I’ve seen for donkey’s years.

Add to this culture of criticism the other curse of the modern game, an unrealistic sense of entitlement. Success is justified, nothing matters if we are not in the top four and we deserve to be there because we are a big club. Sack the board, the manager, everyone because in a season we’ve not done it. Spurs’ are not alone in this, in fact our fans are by and large infinitely more grounded than the average New Chelsea fans where time began in 1993 and finishing second is a catastrophe. However, the odious culture of entitlement is insidiously insinuating itself into the debate and in my view this has become over the past few seasons, paradoxically since we have actually started doing well. I know a few souls who in private say they preferred the whole experience fo being a Spurs fan when we weren’t expected to win very much. I also think this is worse in social media compared with in the ground itself.

This alienation doesn’t automatically cause any major changes to the nature of being a supporter. However, it’s a backdrop, an undercurrent of discontent simmering away underneath our experience of watching Spurs that every so often bursts to the surface in a torrent of frustration and anger. I believe this explains a lot about the tensions and lack of passion at Spurs at the moment. It creates a situation where there is less tolerance and space. We are quicker to pounce on failings because we are putting up with more than we deserve. I’m not saying this is right, but it is undeniable.

Finally there are demographic factors, again common to the Premier League as a whole. The age of spectators at Premier League games has been rising steadily for some time. The cost is prohibitive, all seaters mean that you can’t just turn up and sit with your mates and trips have to be planned months in advance with almost military precisions. You can’t decide any longer to ring your pals, tip up on the day, plonk down 7s 6d and sing your heart out for the lads. Fact is, most of the end in the old days were young.

It’s not all bad. Spurs fans are remarkably loyal. Also, the 1882 movement and their Fighting Cock site are a group of mostly younger fans who not only understand their heritage, they want to continue it by, in their words, singing “as loud and as long as our lungs will let us. We want to hark back to the days before the Premier League where how loud you sing and how passionate you became wasn’t dependent on how well Tottenham were playing.” As I’ve said, that may be a rose-tinted view of the past but no matter and all power to them. They have had discussions with the club about block ‘singing sections’ for certain games, mostly outside the first team but it has included one European tie, I think. The Tottenham Trust also hope to raise the issue.

It’s a welcome development, even though the whinging is not a new phenomenon. It is hard to see what changes could be made with the ground as it is. I would be in favour of shifting the away fans but I assume safety considerations plus disruption to our season ticket holders in all parts of the ground would make it impossible. Designated singing blocks are a fine idea, perhaps including the southern corner of the Shelf near the old cage. The new stadium has an ‘end’ built in and has been designed to keep the stands as close to the pitch as possible. All the more reason to press ahead as soon as we can.

24 thoughts on “Whinging Spurs Fans? There’s Nothing New Under The Sun

  1. It’s about time players like Dempsey took a look at themselves rather than blame the fans. After all, it was he who decided that he was too good for Fulham. Criticism of players, as you say, is nothing new. Waddle was another that took loads of stick when he first came, but he answered his detractors with his feet, not in the press or on twitter.

    Apart from the very nature of football changing these days (i.e. high prices, vulgar pay packets, intolerance of rowdy fans etc.), a lot of supporters still remember the glory days and use them as a benchmark of what we should be achieving. Unfortunately, a few foreign owners throwing their checkbooks at their clubs has led to what is effectively now just a meaningless pissing contest which has harmed the integrity of the league and distorted what is realistically possible. The high expectation of yesteryear is also fed by the board pretending that Spurs are in competition with the top teams in regards of buying players; making false or unrealistic bids for star players is all well and good (it gets the naive believing), but it also has an adverse effect when these ‘deals’ don’t materialise. Not just on the fans either. How long will Bale want to stay at a club which can’t field a competent first team striker, let alone cover?

    All this current penchant for navel gazing and having a go at our own fan base has only become apparent with the advent of social media. I’m pretty sure that had it been around decades ago in the same commercial climate we’re in now, we’d have seen exactly the same results.

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    • What you say about social media is right and also even when fans moan, is it any different from what people say to each other in the pub.. Everyone has an opinion, we all know fans who will always think the worst, predict that everything will go wrong. Even at the start of the season I read online discussions about Bale’s quality.

      Tend to agree with you re Dempsey too. He presents as a thoughtful, genuine guy but he was the wrong player to point the finger at the crowd.

      Regards, Al

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  2. Some of our fans are really annoying. All season I’ve seen us strut around like we’re suddenly Barcelona, talk about not only finishing above the Arse but about winning the title (!), being top team in London, and having a team of World Class players (Bale, yes – but Vertonghen/Dembele/Holtby? Hell no!). It’s not that I’ve been a pessimist, it’s just after last season when all the same s**t was being said, we needed to take a step back and wait until the season was over before making ourselves look stupid again. And what’s happened? We’re on our knees, trying to muster some confidence, but knowing deep down it’s all crumbled away again.
    And this definitely has a lot to do with everyone believing hype. AVB came out with the pathetic piece about Arsenal fading away, or something like that. Why did he say that? Why would you come out with s**t that at best will only strengthen the will of your opponent and at worst make you look like the idiot you do now.
    We went out of the Europa Cup with the awful stat that we played 12 games and won only 4. FOUR! And we did not play with a weakened team like most of the big clubs, resting very few players throughout.

    I think what I’m saying in all this, is that as fans, we need to calm down with our zeal to be a Top4 side. Nothing wrong in wanting it, but everything wrong in claiming you are when you are not – or before you actually are. We look f***ing stupid at the moment. I’ve got so many mates that all they kept saying was ‘Mind The Gap, Mind The Gap’ to the Arse. Well, what gap now? Did last season teach us nothing? There were Mind The Gap t-shirts being worn for F***s sake!

    oh well

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    • This team and top four is a bonus, I expected less but will still be disappointed if the slide continues because we have played so well. This squad have over-achieved and deserve credit even if we fail. Much of the anger is because we know how close we are – a striker and Moutinho or an injury-free Sandro.

      But some fans have crazy expectations, AVB has to talk things up, it’s the crazy fans that astonish.

      Regards, Al

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  3. Blimey Alan! What a read. So true about us fans and to how it’s all changed.
    Me and all my mates who used to be all together in the mid 70’s to 80’s, used to get behind the team at no matter what.
    It’s all gone for the younger generation. Kids now go with their parents because of the costs involved, and are to far out of the area. We all used to live close by to the stadium and none of us went with our parents, we just used to all walk upto the ground queue and get in. When we reached our late teens it was a few rounds in the pub and then head to the game.
    The Arsenal game at home, I stayed late to take my niece home, who works in the Spurs shop. As we were walking towards my car I see a few young gooners taking the piss out of a lot older Spurs fans who were coming out of the pub in the park lane. And that is one of the problems, I don’t think many young fans from the immediate area go to the game. In our time we would have given them what for.

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  4. Pretty much agree with the article – the WHL crowd was famously critical, even when we were as good as any team in England (and a damn sight better than Arsenal or Chelsea), and I was very happy to be part of it – it showed how high our standards used to be. Now, though, we’re in the era of blind optimism; the uncritical happy-clapper reigns supreme on most of the Spurs websites, and we’re all required to cheer the boring ‘modern’ football so beloved of AVB, and it’s the crowd’s fault if/when we fail to beat the likes of Wigan or Stoke – what wouldn’t I give for us to play like Chelsea or City did yesterday!

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    • Appreciate that. Although I don’t find Spurs boring, you and I have seen far worse than AVB’s team. But maybe we’re not so special or distinct any longer.

      Regards, Al

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  5. If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got.

    Perhaps it’s time to make a change. Rather than suggest we’ve always moaned at the team so nothings new, lets take a new direction.

    We cannot compete with the top clubs on a financial level so we have to face that we won’t buy success. A more pragmatic approach is needed from our fans as we need to pull together to reach our goals….

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    • The fans are more important than ever. We feel we are different. Less corporate. Old school. Don’t buy success. Support through thick and thin. What grates is, we could be turning into them…

      Regards, Alan

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  6. Beautifully written, and well observed, I have also noticed this season (and quite a bit of last) that our ‘ home support’ appear more pessimistic, easily frustrated and overly expectant than in recent years.

    The truth is, Spurs supporters have never had it so good since the incarnation of the Premier League. A team/club once considered a laughingstock, forever languishing in the shadows of their closest rivals, who now appear to be on the brink of bridging the gaping void, and all of a sudden progress doesn’t seem to be happening quite quick enough for some.

    Fans have ALWAYS been a fickle bunch, but some of our ‘supporters’ do not know their born, and instead of going to WHL with a sense of pride and optimism having seen our club grow in the last 5, or so, years beyond recognition, they turn up ready to TURN on their own at the drop of a hat!….And then they have the CHEEK to claim ‘no loves the club more than they do’, or that their ‘Tottenham till they die’…Well how about showing it by SUPPORTING the team/club EVEN in their darkest hour, instead of moaning incessantly.

    I mean, how can we expect our players to help us achieve our goals and dreams, if we don’t believe in them ourselves?

    So whilst I don’t agree with Dempsey coming out and speaking publicly about the atmosphere surrounding the club, at a time when we need to be rallying around one another and show a united front, I can hardly blame him, either.

    Some on this site appear to have thrown in the towel with regards to a top 4 finish but I, for one, have not. For I believe like no other in the team/club I have chosen to commit myself to, and I always will,

    This is a time for us supporters to show our mettle, not to crumble in the face of adversity.

    HOLD YOUR FAITH AND KEEP YOUR NERVE!!!

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    • Thanks, for the comments and a fine post. One with which I totally agree. Not good but it’s not over yet, and the fans really can help at the Lane. It’s not a cliche, we really can.

      Regards, Al

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  7. All these tired old cliches about how we won’t give in to johnny terrorist after the Boston marathon, Boston plastic paddies financed 30 years of IRA atrocities on the UK mainland against innocent people targets ffs! what goes around comes around! (I reckon it’s another inside job or done by mossad like 911 since no-one’s owned up to it☻)COYS

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  8. Thanks for the article.
    I think Dempsey is probably correct. Negativity can affect the team and add pressure. We may well be playing better away from home as a result. Look how Chelsea’s performaces have improved since the Benitez outburst about fans support!

    One other comment – I get fed up hearing players and fans talking about how we deserve a top four finish, as if that will get us home and give us points. As Clint Eastwood said, “Deserves got nothing to do with it!” The one thing football teaches you is you dont always get what you deserve.

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